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Using Masking Tape When Painting

Masking off baseboard and other trim is a great way to get a professional-looking paint job. You'll get a crisp, clean paint line where the walls meet the trim. And the job will go quicker because you'll avoid the time-consuming “cutting in” with the paintbrush and cleaning up paint spatters from your woodwork.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

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    Masking a normal size room will take less than an hour but will easily save you that much time and more with cleanup headaches later.

Pull from the roll to get the tape perfectly straight

Masking off baseboard and other trim is a great way to get a professional-looking paint job. You'll get a crisp, clean paint line where the walls meet the trim. And the job will go quicker because you'll avoid the time-consuming “cutting in” with the paintbrush and cleaning up paint spatters from your woodwork. Of course, masking itself requires a little patience and skill. Wavy tape will result in a wavy paint line. Poor adhesion will allow “paint creep. ” And ragged tape in corners will leave blotches. In this article, we'll show you techniques that will solve these problems and make your masking job go quickly and smoothly. One of the trickiest parts of masking is getting the tape on straight and tight against the wall. There are many techniques, but here's one that works great. Strip 8 to 10 in. of tape from the roll and use the roll itself, held tightly against the wall, to pull the tape straight (Photos 1 and 2). It's a little awkward at first, and may seem slow, but the results are nearly perfect every time. Use this technique wherever you're masking at a right angle to another surface.

Seal the edge to prevent bleeding paint

Seal the tape to the surface by pressing it down firmly with the edge of a flexible putty knife as shown. This is the most important step in good masking and it only takes a few moments. If you skip it, you risk a loose seal that will allow paint to seep underneath. You'll have to scrape off the seeped paint later and touch up the trim.

Keep in mind that you don't have to press down the entire width of the tape. Sealing about 1/32 in. along the edge is all that's needed. Hold the putty knife at an angle as shown. This puts pressure along the critical wall edge of the tape.

Use extra tape to make perfect inside corners

Getting two long pieces of tape to meet exactly in the corner is difficult, so don't try. First of all, don't worry about getting the long pieces of tape to meet in the corner. Start about 3/4 in. from the corner and run them using the method shown on p. 28. Then go back and finish the corners with small lengths of tape using the technique shown in Photos 1 and 2.

Use flaps to protect trim from roller spatter

Extending the masking tape with a piece of 3-in. masking paper is all that's needed to protect the woodwork from most roller spatter and drips. Three-inch paper is ideal because it'll stand straight out. Wider paper may seem like a better idea, but it'll sag and won't provide as much protection. And since the 3-in. paper doesn't sag, you'll still be able to close doors without the paper getting in the way. Apply 3-in. paper along the top trim of windows and doors and along the baseboard. Don't bother to fit the paper tight into corners along the baseboard; you don't need much spatter protection there.

Choose the right tape for the job

Choose the right tape for the job

Editor's Note:

I'm all for saving money, and there are times when a cheaper product will do the job. But cheap masking tape is no bargain. If you're going to all the trouble of masking, you want tape that will seal tightly to the surface and come off easily. But there's no single type of tape that will work in every circumstance. For general masking, I like the Scotch-Blue No. 2090. There are two versions: one for standard masking, and one with less adhesion for masking over delicate surfaces. You can leave these on for up to 14 days. You can also use the blue tape on window glass. The adhesive will withstand ultraviolet light without baking onto the glass. Scotch No. 2060 is extra sticky and works well for textured surfaces like stucco and brick. If you're only going to buy one width, get 1-1/2-in.-wide tape. It's about perfect for most tasks.

Tips for removing masking tape

Several things can go wrong when it comes time to remove masking tape. If you wait too long, the adhesive on the tape will harden and remain stuck to the woodwork. Or if the paint sets but isn't completely dry, some of the wall paint may peel off along with the tape. Here are solutions to these problems. If you're a procrastinator or slow painter, choose tape that's designed to be left on for several days. Scotch No. 2090 is one brand that uses a slow-hardening adhesive so it can be safely left on for about 14 days.

To avoid peeling paint, pull the tape off immediately or wait at least overnight for the paint to dry completely. Beware of paint that feels dry to the touch but hasn't hardened and fully bonded to the wall. It may come off along with the masking tape. Remove tape at about a 45-degree angle to the painted surface as shown to minimize the tendency for paint to peel. And if despite waiting overnight and using a good technique, you notice the paint still peels with the tape, use the edge of your putty knife or a utility knife to cut the seal between the wall and tape before you remove the tape.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Stepladder
    • Putty knife
    • Utility knife

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Masking tape

Comments from DIY Community Members

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1 - 4 of 4 comments
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October 25, 5:40 AM [GMT -5]

Glad to know that through trial and error I have already learned these tips. I concur with the editor on the Scotch BLUE tape as well. I have tried cheaper tapes and they just don't work. Another tape that LOOKS like Blue, but isn't, taped the wall well enough but came off in split sections rather than one long piece, like Blue does.

Another tip I have learned to paint baseboards is to tape on top of the carpet (knowing that it might pull some of the fibers). I use a blunt scraper (or my nails, in my case), to press the tape as far down between the carpet and the molding as possible. Then I place my drop cloths (old sheets/blankets, in my case) at the edge of the tape, but away from the molding. I have taped the drop cloths to the other end, but it isn't really necessary if you are somewhat careful in your prep. By taping the carpet down and the joint where the baseboard meets the wall, painting baseboard molding becomes EASY and fast.

The expense of tape IS worth it when it comes to painting any trim.

October 24, 7:24 PM [GMT -5]

Ok the real secret is there is no "magic" tape for masking perfect lines. Without the trial and error of constantly doing it -like in the case of professional painters, chances are you will end up with mixed results. Besides from what I've seen and experienced while working with a pro, they mostly cut in because they consider it quicker than masking. But in those circumstances that warrant an absolute straight line (walls to kitchen cabinets etc), the number one trick I found that works every time is: Painter's Caulk. The trick is buy just a general purpose tape from Scotch and roll out the tape like the article suggests. Except DO IT LIGHTLY! At least with this method the difference is that instead of tightly sealing the tape down and risking a paint "pulloff", lightly seal it down and run a VERY light line of caulking down the run of tape. Do only one strip or section at a time because the caulk should not be allowed to dry before pulling off the tape. I should add that you can use your finger or a damp sponge that you constantly rinse off (painter's caulk is water soluable so it cleans easily with water) to seal the line down between the tape and the surface you are trying to paint.
Also putting too much caulk aloing the line will result in you getting paint and caulk mixing together. Just a thin line will do. Experiment with a small area and a sponge- you will get the hang of it. Also when you apply the paint, make sure it's enough to coat the caulk but not drip. You can lightly brush over the caulking and even onto the tape as long as the brush isn't heavily loaded. Now immiedietly after painting the section, remove the tape at the recommended 45 degree angle. This should leave you with a clean perfectly straight line and no fear of pulling off much if any of the paint.

Also, I recommend letting paint cure on trim before painting. I think the time to cure for latex based paint is around 25 days and more for oil based as it takes longer for the solvent to evaporate out. Either way if you at least give it a day you should be ok with my method above. The more you do it the more confidence you will get and you will actually be excited to tackle a room :) yes the caulking can get messy but if you use it sparingly and keep a bowl of water handy to clean off the sponge, you should be fine. :)

Hope that helps everyone! -Rob

January 03, 11:36 PM [GMT -5]

I've painted many times but NEVER get a clean line whether I've used a guard, masked or not. I decided to try the new Frog Tape that is supposed to be great. It didn't work either. I spend so much time trying to fix these messy borders.

What is the secret for a professional paint job?

Thanks for your help


April 27, 6:31 PM [GMT -5]

This should cut down on my post-project clean up.


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